The rather funny Richard recently brought us ‘A Man’s Guide to Pregnancy‘, as part of our ‘Becoming a Father’ series. I’m delighted to say he’s back again today with his latest instalment, his very own guide to labour. Brace yourself for rugby, rules and even (Gordon) Ramsey…
Nine months have flown by (it barely seemed like a week, in fact) and now the only things on the minds of both you and your partner are ‘when is this thing going to arrive?’ and ‘what is going to happen?’. Fortunately, I can help you with both of those questions.
The answer to the first is to look at the calendar. Look, particularly, for big and important meetings, job interviews or significant sports or cultural events*. That will be when the baby arrives. They have no social skills for the first twenty four years and will therefore show up just when you don’t want them to. In the case of my son it was during the Rugby World Cup, on an afternoon when England were playing.
Of course, your, by now outsized, other half may very well think that there really is no convenient time to have half a stone of human being expelled from her vagina like an elderly Tube train from the West Hampstead tunnel, but that is the answer to the second question. If you hadn’t worked that out by the nine month stage…
In between all of this, there is ‘The Labour Room’. Or ‘The Delivery Suite’, or whatever way your local hospital has decided to dress up the fact that it is an anodyne room where ouchy things happen to someone you love. Believe me, attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion have nothing on some of the things you will witness. I’ll do my best to describe, but first of all there are two golden rules you must obey in this room.
Image via New Life Midwifery
Rule Number One is that, with the exception of the things covered by Rule Number Two, nothing you say will henceforth make any sense to her. Even the very obvious things like “Just have the bloody epidural” or “You suck on [the gas and air] tube, you don’t blow into it” will be automatically translated into something akin to Esperanto in your partner’s mind and duly ignored. You may have been involved in a long term relationship with someone who routinely engages you in proper, reasoned, conversation, but you’ll have to accept that, for the next few hours, that woman has been replaced by a shouting loon. There is, of course, Nothing You Can Do about this.
Rule Number Two is that you should not, under any circumstances, attempt humour. If lightheartedly suggesting that putting on pyjama bottoms might, under the circumstances, be a little pointless brings you a punch in the throat, then idly speculating about whether or not the midwife might be a lesbian suggests that you might, temporarily, be harbouring a death wish. And don’t even think about an attack of the giggles when the midwife announces that she will perform ‘a sweep’ and then turns your wife into a glove puppet.
There’s really no way to prepare for this, at least the first time it happens to you. It is a completely disorientating experience. Everything you have grown up believing – pain is bad, jokes are good, women listen to you – is stood on its head (although if you believed that third item we need to talk). The best thing you can do is to sit back and watch the rugby until the moment of delivery arrives.
Delivery itself does of course take two forms. There’s the version mentioned above, and the version which involves major abdominal surgery. In the first scenario, your role is merely to be there. There’s Nothing You Can Do, but the doctors and midwives expect you to stand at the head end because, apparently, there’s a rule that with every vaginal delivery someone has to go home with busted eardrums and they are damned if it is going to be them.
If, on the other hand, a c-section is the delivery option, you have a new challenge. It is a question of how fast you can get changed out of your regular clothes and into surgical gear, including comedy shoes, before the doctors get all antsy and start cutting and without Stuart Hall’s voice coming into your head.
Finally, after many long hours of kicking and screaming, it will be all over and you can go to the pub you will hopefully hear the magical words “Oh yes, that’s definitely a boy”. Shortly after, you will have a beautiful baby placed into your arms. At which point the appropriate response is never “Oh crap, you poor little bastard” although it will be tempting to utter it.
Someone will then invite you to come and watch them check the baby’s vital signs. They will place your newborn offspring under a heat lamp, thus making them look like something about to be served up by Gordon Ramsey, after which they perform a sort of stock-take, counting limbs, vertebrae and other fairly obvious bits whilst someone else ticks them off on a chart. It is a bit like watching a stocktake, but on no account should you attempt to enliven proceedings by shouting random numbers, as that makes the staff curiously grumpy.
After this is done, there are a few minor formalities to deal with – putting clothes on the baby, sewing your wife back together, that sort of thing – and then you can nip outside with your phone and tell the world that, yes, you really are a proper man now.
*in an amusing twist, women can use this same method to predict when their next period will start…